Monday, December 10, 2012


Before I talk about materials for this dress, I'm going to take a quick detour into my Philosophy of Costuming.

I got into costuming through reenacting. American Civil War (1861-1865), specifically.  When I discovered the internet and authentic construction, I took to it like a duck to water.  Ever since then, I can't lose my love for authenticity.  For me, there's just as much beauty in a complete, authentic look as in an outfit that's shinier, fancier, and more elaborate, whether or not it's just as authentic.

So I can't honestly say I'm in the Pretty, Pretty Princess camp.  BUT!!!  This applies to ME and to ME ONLY!  The vast majority (dare I say ALL?) of my dear costuming friends are Pretty, Pretty Princesses, and I love it!

At the same time, complete authenticity is impossible, so it's not my goal.  I want to be as authentic as possible within my own limits, including budget and time.  Those are, for historical costuming:

1. Natural fibers for fabric and other material. I keep to silk, wool, cotton, and linen, also keeping in mind that certain fibers are more appropriate than others.  I usually use cotton thread for 1860s, but I haven't spent the money for a stock of silk or linen thread for earlier periods.  Also woven tapes.  I've got lots of cotton, but I haven't yet gotten linen tape.  I also use fine cottons for frilly 18th century stuff, because fine linen is either impossible to find or crazy expensive!

2. Hand finishing, though not typically hand seaming; no visible machine sewing for anything pre-1860.  I have sewn a complete Regency outfit by hand, from the skin out, so I know I can do it; I don't have anything to prove.

I love research. Because the more I know, the better equipped I am to decide where to be authentic, and where to make compromises.  That is fun!

So! All that to say that before I commit to a certain project, I try to ensure that I can get the appropriate materials.  The Maid Marian dress pushed that envelope a bit, but I had more flexibility because I wasn't making a period-accurate costume, for either the 1100s or the 1930s. ;)

This dress first grabbed me because of the perfect match for silk I already have.  But the other parts of concerned me.  I saw:

* White fur (ermine)
* Gold and silver or white silk brocade in a particular pattern
* Fine, hand-made silk lace on the skirt.

The fur is not a problem, as such.  I would have no problem with substituting a similar short-hair fur like rabbit for ermine, and I know I can get it (Tandy Leather is based in my city, and I have connections in Minnesota).  The big problem is that I hate sewing on it!  Well, it's really the leather. The needles are big and hurt me fingers, and it always feels awkward as I'm sewing it. And this is a lot of fur!

However, I realized that I could go with white velvet instead.  Cotton velvet is more similar to historical velvets (at least 19th century velvets) than is silk or rayon velvet, it's super soft, and it's relatively easy to work with.  It's also readily available.  So that solved that problem!

Brocade I've never shopped for. However, I found some decent leads on ebay, particularly from the seller Pure Silks.  The prices are no more than par for taffeta, either; from $15-19/yd.  Ouch, but it's only for a petticoat, so it's more affordable.

Lace, however, had me really worried.  Modern laces are infamous for being stiff and scratchy. And even antique lace is usually fairly pricey - and I'd need a lot of it!  The sleeve flounces I know I can find a length or two that won't break the bank.  The skirt is a whole 'nother problem.  But I suddenly thought about finding a sheer silk with a woven or embroidered design, and making my own "lace" substitute.  The lace in the portrait is gathered so tightly that the lace design isn't the highlight of the design, too.  Thai Silks has some interesting things, like embroidered chiffon, that might work fairly well.  I really want the effect to be the same, and for that the "lace" must be very soft and drapey. Even antique cotton lace probably wouldn't be soft enough.

That takes care of the big ones!  Now it's only the details to be settled, like the tasseled girdle, the skirt fringe/trim, and the brooches/ornaments.

The skirt fringe I'm not too concerned about yet. I'm reasonably confident I can find a white trim that's similar enough for the effect.

The tassels were another thing again.  I can't tell clearly what they are, except that they're definitely not just straight pieces of silk.  At first I thought they were like crocheted shells.  I spent several days, off and on, googling for crochet patterns and for all kinds of home dec tassels, and I pulled up a big fat zero.  I was getting seriously worried!

This other portrait, while dating from 50 years later, is amazingly similar in style.  It sure shows the consistency of formal court dress!

The tassel is much clearer here, though, and also shows how it's got a strange clumpy or short feathery texture.  So very strange.

And suddenly I discovered what it was, when I stumbled over the blog Italian Needlework. Something I never knew existed before - Italian-style tassels.  Look at these pictures!

These tassels are essentially short knotted pieces of thread or floss, which are strung on another fiber with a needle and knotted apart.

 So I will be learning a new skill for these!  I am so excited. :D  I was not looking forward to trying to make up my own crocheted tassels (did they even have crochet in the 17th century?), but this looks fun!

The last difficulty, still unsolved, is the brooches.  They look to my untutored eye like something that ought to be available for SCA.  Do any of you have recommendations for vendors? And hopefully ones that won't cost the earth?  I'm willing to skip the ones on the skirt, for the sake of affordability, but it just won't the same without the graduated jewels on the front!

Ideas VERY welcome!!!

1 comment:

  1. If you are up for making your own brooches try this book. Creating Your Own Antique Jewelry: Taking Inspiration from Great Museums Around the World by Chris Dupouy. I got it from my local library but it is on Amazon for about 20 dollars. Its pretty easy and looks accurate. Happy creating!